With the Autumn Internationals coming to an end so does the international rugby season and after an eventful year I thought I’d put together my team of 2016. Not surprising, since they only lost one match between them, England (with 5) and New Zealand (6) make up the majority of the team, whilst Australia (2), Wales (1) and Ireland (1) are also represented:
Loose Head – Mako Vunipola
Jack McGrath had and impressive Autumn but Vunipola just edges it for his performances over the course of the whole year.
Hooker – Dan Coles
It really pains me to admit the Hurricanes hooker is the best in the world at what he does because I think he is also one of the nastiest players in the game at the moment but his all round game sadly does make him the stand out player in his position.
Tight Head – Owen Franks
The best scrummaging front row in the world easily gets the nod at tight head.
Lock – Brodie Retallick
In my opinion the most important player for the All Blacks.
Lock – Maro Itoje
Probably the toughest decision because I believe Sam Whitelock is almost as important to the All Blacks as his fellow lock but Itoje gets the nod for a fine six nations and a sensational tour of Australia. Has to be considered the most exciting young player in the game and I can’t wait for Itoje to come up against Retallick next summer.
Flanker – Elliot Dixon
I admit this one may be considered left field but as a Highlanders fan I feel Dixon is one of the most underrated rugby players in New Zealand. Similarly, Ardie Savea is another who may not be as well-known as his older brother but he plays for the Canes!
Flanker – Sean O’Brien
Normally David Pocock would nail down this slot but I was underwhelmed with the Wallaby this year so O’Brien gets the nod.
Number Eight – Billy Vunipola
The second Vunipola in the team and Billy must thank Eddie Jones for his inclusion. Since Jones took over as England coach the younger Vunipola has been the player who seems to have benefited the most. Some would argue for Kieran Reid’s inclusion but he is not the player he was two or three years ago and players like Vunipola and Wales’ Faletau have now caught him up.
Scrum Half – Aaron Smith
As this is a team of 2016 Smith has to get the nod for the way he was playing before he got caught in a hospital toilet. His performances after that incident have shown that the media scrutiny has affected him and, as a Highlander fan, I hope it is the pre-toilet Smith that returns next year.
Fly Half – George Ford
I know this is sacrilege here in New Zealand but whilst Beauden Barrett, the gut kiwis think god looks up to, he does not have the game management that Ford has.
Inside Centre – Owen Farrell
Perversely Farrell’s inclusion could have opened the door for Barrett because the Englishman’s kicking accuracy would make up for Barrett’s limitations when it comes to goal kicking. Farrell may not be the most physical centre but a place has to be found for him simply because of his goal kicking.
Outside Centre – Tevita Kuridrani
I could have gone for Farrell’s England team mate in Jonathon Joseph but whilst the Englishman just wins in attack it is the Wallabies defence which earns him a place in the team
Wing – Liam Williams
Finally, a Welshman made the team! One of the few players who shone in what can only be described as a depressing year for Welsh rugby.
Wing – Ben Smith
I don’t personally think playing on the wing is his best position but he is still in the top two. Amazing under the high ball and breaking from deep it often overshadows the amount of defensive work he gets through in a game.
Full Back – Israel Folau
I think it is neck and neck between Ben Smith and Folau as to who is the best full back in the game at the moment but Smith’s versatility enables both to be included. Like Smith he is one of the best, if not the best, under the high ball and a real threat both breaking from deep and injecting himself into the line.